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A Magazine for Sheffield

Houndstooth / John Otway / Alvvays

12 September

English surrealism is a sullied concept, now most associated with the small 'c' conservatism of the Monster Raving Loony Party or the Last Night of the Proms. Aylesbury's John Otway has been doggedly representing the alternative since 1972, when Polydor Records offered him an eye-watering £1.5 million deal and promptly saw their money disappear down the drain. He's been revelling in the downward spiral ever since, reinventing himself as a cult cabaret act through relentless touring.

“I've only got two hits, so I've got to make them last,” he tells the Greystones, interrupting 1977's 'Really Free' before jumping into a bonus chorus. John inspires a fandom that is beyond obsessive, and the pitch-perfect audience callbacks can leave an Otway outsider feeling like they've been left out of the joke. But even for the uninitiated there's still much to enjoy, such as his construction of a Britney-style hands-free mic with a coathanger and the inclusion of a theremin on two novelty songs, called (of course) 'Crazy Horses' and 'Dancing With Ghosts'. Every gig could be improved with a theremin. He introduces most songs by apologising for their poor quality or his own inability to play them, but this self-deprecation belies the fact that he's backed up by a damn good rock 'n' roll band, one that could give the current Fall line-up a run for their money.

Not all of the songs are as bad as he claims, either. 'Geneve' and 'Josephine' are both decent folk-rockers, while his other 'hit', 2006's 'Bunsen Burner', is a joyous reworking of 'Disco Inferno' (“I can make you phosphoresce, I can make you effervesce”). He can do stadium bombast too, as he demonstrates with Queen piss-take 'We Rock', after declaring that “the problem with 'We Will Rock You' is that there's too many words in it”. The material is patchy, but Otway's infinitely likeable personality breathes life into the songs, and by the third encore (!) you can't help but root for this perennial loser so adored by his disciples.

Sam Gregory


31 August

I fell in love with Alvvays last summer, swept up in the open-armed chorus of ‘Archie, Marry Me’ from their sublime self-titled debut. They take to the stage in the Leadmill’s back room at the end of another summer, looking like a band that’s come from down the road, the sort of gang you could gladly disgrace yourself with in a late night pub session. Only Molly Rankin’s Minnie Mouse Canadian speaking voice reminds you they’re from the other side of the world.

But they’re as humble as the band next door too, and don’t seem to realise that everyone’s come out specifically to see them on this rainy Monday night. “Do you know we’re from Nova Scotia?” Rankin pips. They’ve never heard of Half Man Half Biscuit either, who are playing the venue later that week, and the happy crowd tries to explain all at once over their own laughter.

The fivesome dish out lashings of their irresistible indie pop, and there are more great hits here than should be allowed on one album. Their tricksy melody lines are their secret weapon. Like Jess Weiss from Fear of Men, Rankin plays her vocal instrument like a second guitar, and it’s as if the notes have been noodled out of her throat. Maybe it’s her musical upbringing on the fiddle that inspires such fluidity.

The band air some new songs to pad out the one-album set, with Joey Santiago-style guitar from Alec O’Hanley thrown like a tantrum over the top of one number. Most of the newies tonight seem to be heading away from that melodic brilliance which sets Rankin’s writing apart, towards a rougher, mid-late Weezer-esque direction, with a rockier feel and close teen punk harmonies from keyboardist Kerri MacLellan. But the new stuff seems to go down well with everyone else in the room, as does their Kirsty MacColl cover encore. Alvvays have attracted a decent and varied Sheffield crowd, with clusters of teens, 30-something couples and lone dads alike all gleefully lost in the current.

Nat Loftus


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